Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Albert the Great
November 15, 2016
Rev 3:1-6.14-22; Ps 15, Lk 19:1-10
To listen to a partial audio recording of today’s homily — the recorder quit during the homily — please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- We’re in the last few days of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and today in the readings, we are able to focus on the heart of this holy year. It can be summed up by two phrases at the end of the Gospel and first readings respectively: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” and “I stand at the door and knock.” Those words of Jesus at the end of his interaction with Zacchaeus and the crowds and after his address to the Seven Churches help us to grasp God’s great desire to save us in his mercy. He knocks, he invites, and, as we pray in the Psalm, he wants to seat us on his throne and share the victory of his triumph over sin and death. Let’s enter into these readings and learn the lessons God wants us to capture, not just in this Jubilee but in the continual kairos of mercy that will continue long after the Jubilee Door is closed.
- The Lord’s merciful desire to save was on full display in the Gospel with Zacchaeus. His love for sinners was so profound that he literally went to the deepest place on earth in search of perhaps the greatest public sinner of that city, to reconcile him to the Father. Jesus went to Jericho, the lowest city on the planet — 853 feet below sea level — to find Zacchaeus, who was not just one of a bunch of tax-collectors loathsome to the Jewish authorities, but the chief tax collector of the region, which was the equivalent of the don of the mafia. He conspired with the Romans to rip off his own fellow Jews through the crooked Roman tax system. Jesus had promised that he, the Good Shepherd, would leave the ninety-nine sheep in his fold to search out and save one lost sheep, and this is what he did, leaving the crowds behind and entering alone with Zacchaeus into his home and into his life. He called Zacchaeus, his lost sheep, by name and heaven rejoiced on that day more for him than for all the others. So, too, today and everyday, Jesus takes the initiative of knocking at the door of our souls, asking for entry, coming to us wherever we are, no matter the depths to which we’ve sunk, no matter the fact that perhaps everyone else around us might despise us. Jesus never abandons us. To the extent that we repent of whatever sins we’ve committed and accept Jesus’ gracious invitation by “welcoming him with delight,” we, too, like Zacchaeus, can have salvation come to us.
- The diminutive Zacchaeus’ climbing of the tree, moreover, is more than (merely) an interesting detail. The text tells us that he was trying to see Jesus, but could not because of the crowd, so he ran ahead and climbed a tree along Jesus’ route in order to be able to see him. We, too, often cannot see the Lord because other people get in the way. They block our sight in countless ways. We’re often too small of stature to see over such obstacles, and, unfortunately, too often others are too selfish, distracted, sinful, judgmental or out-of-it, to do anything to help us and bring us into the presence of the Lord. Like a little child, however, Zacchaeus climbs a tree to see the Lord. Such an act could have led to great mockery for a middle-aged public figure. But Zacchaeus didn’t care. He wanted to see the Lord and none of these obstacles was going to stop him. His example challenges each of us to consider what is the extent to which we go, what trees or obstacles we’ll climb, in order to see Jesus more clearly. In our prayer, we regularly “leave the ground” to go to Jesus, to be able to behold him, to make sure that we are able to focus on him. But then, just like Jesus called Zacchaeus to come down from the tree and spend the rest of the day with him, so Jesus does the same for us. Our mental prayer is a time in which we can fix our eyes on Jesus so that we can keep them on him the rest of the day.
- The third thing this episode with Zacchaeus teaches us is that a true conversion to God also brings about a real conversion to others. The rehabilitation of our relationship with God is not meant to remain private, but is supposed to help us reexamine our relationship with others and inspire us to repair whatever harms we have caused. Even though Zacchaeus, like his fellow tax-collectors, would have been guilty of ripping off the people of Jericho by unregulated over-taxation, he knew that he needed to make amends and to use the gift of his office to do good rather than evil. So he told Jesus, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Strict justice would have required his giving back precisely what he had overcharged. If he had really wanted to be kind, he would have given it back with modest interest. But he was going to give it back with four-hundred perccent interest, which was a sign of great contrition for the gravity of his previous sins of stealing and intimidation. Moreover, a strictly observant religious Jew would give ten percent of his income over to God and the poor. Zacchaeus committed himself to giving fifty percent of his income to those who were needy, which was a sign of great love and a recognition that others needed his money more than he did. From that point forward, he was going to be an honest tax collector, a Christian tax collector, and use his office for his salvation and sanctification and for that of others. Zacchaeus likely remained a rich man, but one who used his riches, used what God gave him, for building up God’s kingdom. We’re called to do the same with whatever God has given us, lavishly sharing the mercy we’ve received with others. I’ve been thinking about what we would do if we had a billion dollars to spend in the next five days, how we wouldn’t be passing out quarters or dollar bills, but being lavishly generous. That’s what we have at the end of this Year of Mercy, and we’re called to be extravagant in sharing mercy with others.
- We can also learn so much about the meaning of the Jubilee in today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation. Jesus’ words are highly relevant because what he describes of these Christians in the sixth and seventh of the seven Churches to whom the Book of Revelation was addressed are applicable in many circumstances to many Christians in the United States. In saying these strong words, Jesus wasn’t castigating to put people down; he was summoning them to conversion, so that they would recognize that they were lost and open themselves up to the salvation he was seeking to bring them. He was calling them to mercy and showing them the way to remain in his mercy. And so what I’d like to focus on is not just the Divine Physician’s diagnosis, but also his prescription.
- To the Christians in Sardis, Jesus said, “I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” On the outside and in name they seemed to be Christians but Jesus, who can read the heart, proclaimed that they were dead on the inside. It’s quite possible that he meant that they weren’t growing. To be alive is to be growing. When we stop growing, when our cells stop dividing, we’re dead. It’s also quite likely that many of them were in mortal sin and had voluntarily killed divine life within them. Jesus later noted that a few people in Sardis hadn’t “soiled their garments” and would “walk with me dressed in white,” implying that most of them had sullied their baptismal garments with serious sin and were no longer walking with Jesus, following him in the path of holiness. Jesus gave them five things to do in response. First he told them “Be watchful,” to look out for him, to find like Zacchaeus did. Second, “strengthen what is left,” which means to take advantage of the gifts and opportunities one still has, not to look back, to what was lost, but rather to the present and unite one’s life with God. Third, he called them to receptivity: “remember how you accepted and heard,” to live by it again and to repent. How important is our openness to God, especially to his word, in order to grow in the spiritual life. The Lord wants us to have a heart that is totally receptive to his action, much like we see in our Lady. Fourth, he wants their to cleanse their garments of anything that has soiled them, which means come to him for mercy, pointing to the importance of the Sacrament of Mercy. Lastly, he wants us to “walk with [him] dressed in white.” He wants us to follow him, to be unashamed of our baptism, of our purity, of our gifts. These are ways to persevere in the grace of mercy and come fully to life.
- To the Christians in Laodicea, Jesus used even stronger language that points to their need for mercy and how to receive it and respond to it. “I know your works,” he said, and “that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot but since you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Jesus ultimately wants us to be on fire with love for him and others, but he’d take our being cold because at least those who are cold shiver and recognize that they need the heat. Those who are tepid, he said, who are living in 65 degree weather, think that they can just go on that way. Jesus says that such lukewarmness makes him sick to his stomach, to the point of vomiting. The reason for their lukewarmness, he said, is a material self-sufficiency that leads them to place their faith, hope and love in money rather than in God. They think they don’t need God. “You say,” Jesus adds, “‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are [spiritually] wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” They don’t even grasp how sick and shameful their circumstance is because they’ve been deadened by their materialism and consumerism. Jesus, here, wasn’t insulting them in order to put them down; he was telling them the truth in order to raise them up. Like a doctor telling a patient straight out his cancerous condition and what brutal treatment would be needed, Jesus, who came to seek and save what was lost, was letting them know that they needed drastic treatment of their heart and what it desired, of their body, and of their eyes. “I advise you to buy from me,” he said, “gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see.” He wanted them to “buy” it, rather than just receive it, because he desired them to grasp what he was giving as the pearl of great price worth selling what they presently had, their golden calves, to obtain. He wanted them to purchase the true spiritual wealth of fire-refined gold, the real treasure of the kingdom, through refining all they had through the fire of charity. He wanted them to purchase anew the white garments of baptism to cover themselves, as the sons of Adam and Eve who covered themselves, in the graces of baptism. He wanted them to obtain the ointment of the Holy Spirit for their eyes so that they might see and value things aright. All of this was precisely an offer of salvation. Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I prove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.” He finished the words to the seven Churches by saying, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” Jesus is always knocking, politely asking entry into our lives, hoping that we will open the door to a life of total communion with him so that, as he promised, we can sit with him on his throne and share his victory.
- Someone who received the Lord into his life, who was eager to find him in the midst of so many fields of study, who opened the door when the Lord was knocking with a vocation, one who was vigilant, grateful, receptive, cleansed, who would literally walk thousands of miles spreading the faith, who placed his treasure in the refined gold, baptismal garments, and sacred unction of God, was St. Albert the Great whom we celebrate today. How fitting he was vested in the white garments of a Dominican. And his learning became in some way a tree with a perch through which so many others were able to see the truth of God and the Truth God is, including so many Dominican saints from Thomas Aquinas down to this day. We reiterate the prayer we made at the beginning of Mass today that God “who made the Bishop Saint Albert great by his joining of human wisdom to divine faith” would grant us so to “adhere to the truths he taught that through progress in learning we may come to a deeper knowledge and love of” God. And in this Jubilee of Mercy, to a greater knowledge and love of his Mercy.
- Just like the Lord went to the lowest place on earth to bring Zacchaeus back to the fold, so the Lord Jesus comes continually to save us, no matter how far we’ve sunk, and no matter how many times we’ve fallen. And there’s nothing he won’t do to save us. When we and the whole human race were incapable of seeing Him on account of the great weight of sin which was reducing our humanity to smaller and smaller images of what we are called to be, and thereby when we were incapable of climbing any tree at all, he, out of his great love for us, climbed one on our behalf, so that each of us might still be able to see him, perched upon his glorious wooden throne. He invites each of us here and now in this Eucharistic participation in his death and resurrection, to be lifted up by him onto that life-giving tree, so that as victors we might sit with him on his throne and as God’s children might spend eternity in a celestial tree house built upon the Cross’ firm foundation. Today Jesus knocks on the door of our heart and says, “I must stay in your house today.” Let’s let him in totally, so that he might dine with us and us with him, in a communion that as St. Albert now realizes, will know no end.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 rv 3:1-6, 14-22
“To the angel of the Church in Sardis, write this:
and the seven stars says this: “I know your works,
that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die,
for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent.
If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief,
and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you.
However, you have a few people in Sardis
who have not soiled their garments;
they will walk with me dressed in white,
because they are worthy.
and I will never erase his name from the book of life
but will acknowledge his name in the presence of my Father
and of his angels.
“‘The Amen, the faithful and true witness,
the source of God’s creation, says this:
“I know your works;
I know that you are neither cold nor hot.
I wish you were either cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out of my mouth.
For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’
and yet do not realize that you are wretched,
pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich,
and white garments to put on
so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed,
and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see.
Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise.
Be earnest, therefore, and repent.
“‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
then I will enter his house and dine with him,
and he with me.
I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne,
as I myself first won the victory
and sit with my Father on his throne.
“‘Whoever has ears ought to hear
what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
Responsorial Psalm ps 15:2-3a, 3bc-4ab, 5
He who walks blamelessly and does justice;
who thinks the truth in his heart
and slanders not with his tongue.
R. I will seat the victor beside me on my throne.
Who harms not his fellow man,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
By whom the reprobate is despised,
while he honors those who fear the LORD.
R. I will seat the victor beside me on my throne.
Who lends not his money at usury
and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things
shall never be disturbed.
R. I will seat the victor beside me on my throne.
Gospel lk 19:1-10
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”